By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia sent repairmen and a convoy of fuel trucks to Georgia following the weekend explosion on a key Georgian railway bridge that severed the two South Caucasus states’ main trade link with the outside world.
The bridge is located near the central Georgian town of Gori that was occupied by Russian troops just days after the conflict over South Ossetia escalated into an all-out war between Russia and Georgia. The Georgian government accused the Russians of blowing it up on Saturday, a charge strongly denied by Moscow.
President Serzh Sarkisian had a phone conversation with his embattled Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, just hours after the blast. “The President of Georgia promised to make every effort to have the bridge restored as soon as possible,” Sarkisian’s office said in a statement.
The two leaders already spoke by phone on Friday, with Sarkisian again regretting the deaths of hundreds of Georgians and offering to provide humanitarian aid to thousands of others displaced by the conflict.
Repairs on the heavily damaged bridge got underway on Monday. Georgian workers were due to be joined by 12 Armenian construction specialists who left Yerevan on Sunday. Armenia also reportedly sent a trainload of construction materials that will be used for rebuilding the bridge as well as civilian facilities in Gori.
Officials in Yerevan said they were assured by the Georgian side that the repairs will be complete in one or two days. But according to Reuters, Georgian railway officials expect to reopen the bridge within 10 days. Still, the news agency cited a spokesman for Azerbaijan's national railroad as saying that a smaller, disused rail bridge is being prepared for use in the meantime.
The Georgian railway is the main transport link between Armenia and the Georgian Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti that process more than 90 percent of freight shipped to and from the landlocked country. Cargo traffic through the ports was seriously complicated by Russian air strikes on civilian and military targets in Georgia that stopped only late last week.
With fuel, wheat and other basic commodities transported to Armenia mainly by rail, the bridge explosion created an even more serious problem for the Yerevan government. There were renewed signs of fuel shortages in the country on Monday. In Yerevan, some gasoline stations again limited their sales to up to 10 liters per car, while others shut down altogether.
Not surprisingly, the government is anxious restore fuel imports in the first instance. It sent on Sunday a convoy of 39 heavy trucks to Batumi’s port terminal where officials say 1,800 metric tons of petrol were stockpiled by Armenian fuel importers before the Gori blast.
Another convoy of trucks was due to leave Yerevan late Monday. According to Gagik Aghajanian, director of the cargo company Apaven assisting the government in the emergency effort, it will collect not only fuel but also wheat.
Aghajanian said a total of 72 rail carriages loaded with wheat bound for Armenia are currently stranded in the Georgian ports. Also awaiting shipment to Armenia are 250 containers carrying other, “non-strategic” goods, he told RFE/RL.